Civil War Book Review: A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War

A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War
by Amanda Foreman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1008 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (June 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037550494X

A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil WarAs America descends into civil war, England is the world’s super power.  The sun never sets on the British Empire.  Her navy rules the waves and her merchant fleet carries most of the world’s goods.  England’s industries can supply everything a modern nation needs to fight a war or enjoy peace.  London is the center of the political world and the heart of the empire.  England stands alone.  France is still recovering from the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars with an uncertain political atmosphere.  Germany is not a unified nation; Prussia is the strongest state there.  Italy is in the process of becoming a unified state.  Russia is huge but backward, largely occupied with expanding toward the East. China is weak and often occupied by European powers.  Japan is starting to become a power but not a player on the world stage.   London’s actions can change the course of the American Civil War.  Her position is as vital to both sides as winning battles.

This book looks at the political contest in London, Paris and Washington between the North and the South during the Civil War.  Told largely from England’s perspective, the book is an English import; it gives Americans a very different view of events.   This perspective brings a new set of considerations into force when trying to answer questions about England’s actions.

We open with a detailed look at relations between England and America.  They are not close allies having fought two wars in less than 90 years.  The large Irish American population is anti-English and vocal about it.  Bashing England is a popular political standard in many areas, helping to elect more than one Congressman.  England sees America as a source of raw materials, a market for finished goods and a potential rival. American designs on Canada are always a sour point.  There are constant border questions cased by westward expansion, a few have become serious.  England took the lead in suppressing the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery is illegal in the Empire.  However, her mills depend on cotton picked by slaves in America.

This is a complex and detailed history.  The author does an excellent job of explaining the background and legal aspects of each event.  This makes it easier to follow the English position and understand their actions.  The book covers the first three years of the war in detail.  This is when the possibility of intervention was very real.  The last year of the war is covered but in less detail as questions are settled.  Each Confederate move, American counter move and English reaction makes for a lively history.  This is a battle as real as any fought in America and deadly serious.

Readers that have read about this from the American perspective need to prepare for a very different look at Seward and Adams.  England saw a very different person than we did.

Of great interest are how long news takes and the result of this delay.  In the Fall of 1862, this is a critical item and almost caused real problems.

We know England did not recognize the Confederate States of America.  How close they came to doing something and how much help English businessmen provided makes an engrossing read.


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